A Note on Bleak House Editions
Quicksilver Messenger Service: "Pride of Man"

Mozart: Requiem

Having been thwarted twice in attempts to hear a live performance of this work, and being pretty old, I'm probably not going to get another chance at it. Oh well; I'm happy that there are recordings.

For Christmas of 2019 one of my children and her husband gave my wife and me tickets to a performance of the Requiem by the Mobile Symphony and a local choir (no offense, local choir, I just don't remember your name). Then along came Covid, and the performance was cancelled. So I was happy to see that the symphony was going to try again this year. No pandemic or other obstacle was in the way, and the performance did happen. 

But came the week before the concert, and also came a bad cold, first to my wife and then to me. By Saturday, when we were to have attended, we were both coughing and sneezing etc. so much that it began to seem like a bad idea to put ourselves into seats at the Saenger Theater where we would spend a couple of hours elbow-to-elbow with other people, and probably conversing with a few of them, as some acquaintances have seats next to and directly behind us. Apart from the good possibility that we would spread the virus, there was also the potential problem of our being unable to suppress bouts of noisy coughing and sneezing etc. Which could arguably have been a worse thing to do than spreading the cold.

So we decided not to go, and instead spent the evening watching Alabama lose their game in the Final Four of the NCAA basketball playoffs. That was sad, because it was the first time Alabama had gotten that far, but since I don't care much about basketball, missing the concert was sadder.

Oh well; I'm happy that there are recordings. And since the weekend I've listened to two of them. I had not heard this work for many years, and I was astonished at how good it is. I guess I had never really listened to it so attentively; I can recall putting on the LP when we had small children and being pretty distracted. 

This is not just an excellent and profound piece of music, it's a monument of Western civilization, up there with the greatest works of Bach and Beethoven. The fact that it's a setting of the Mass is part of its cultural status, even in the eyes of non-believers, as Christianity is at the heart of our civilization and so was the Mass for over a thousand years, and the Mass is at the heart of so much great music. For Christians it goes beyond that. The Requiem Mass in particular is a dramatic statement of the greatest truths of the faith, expressed here in some of the greatest music of one of those extremely rare artists who are unquestionably at the highest levels of genius.  

I know, Mozart left it unfinished at his death, and the version we have was completed by his friend Franz Xaver Süssmayr. We can't know how much of the work as we know it was Süssmayr's, and apparently that question has been continually and energetically argued almost from the beginning. (I did not know until a few days ago that there are other completions, some fairly recent. But Süssmayr's remains the standard.) But that doesn't matter when you're listening to it. 

I listened to two recordings, the one I purchased on LP over thirty years ago, and another chosen more or less randomly from the many available on IDAGIO. This is the LP, which seems to have been recorded in the late '60s.


Image from Discogs

And this is the other. 


Also from Discogs

I liked the first one better. I can only say that it seemed to have more clarity, especially in the singing, which is obviously desirable when the text is so important, and generally a somewhat more fresh and lively quality. I want next to try one of the recordings which use smaller ensembles and may have greater clarity in the complex choral parts. 

I would urge that anyone who is new (or, like me, sort of new) to the work listen to a recording with the text and a close translation at hand (the back cover of my LP gives both, side by side). If you know Latin pretty well and are very familiar with the Requiem texts, you may not need them, but I certainly did. You really need to follow as closely as possible what Mozart does with the text, often giving a single word or a phrase a very elaborate treatment, with a good deal of repetition, and sometimes charging straight through. The Kyrie, for instance, is a fugue, and not the only one. I found it easy to lose track, even with the text in front of me, and the whole experience would have had less impact without that orientation. And I know that there is much more to be gained from further listening, though I feel a bit wistful knowing that there are technical complications and subtleties that are beyond my perception.

I won't try to go further than those general observations, except to repeat my sense of awe at the work. I may insert into my will a requirement that it be performed at my funeral, to make up for my having missed these two chances at hearing a live performance--and I don't mean a recording. It would be a nice thing to do for my family, though it might seem to some of them more like being forced to eat their vegetables. Stop complaining, it's good for you.


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My sympathies on missing the concert. My wife and I had tickets to hear Apollo5 a couple of weeks ago, and we both had bad colds and had to stay home... Maybe there is a particular strain of the virus that dislikes choral music?

I haven't listened to Mozart's Requiem in ages... thanks for the reminder.

My favorite piece of composed music. I like the completion that Boston Baroque debuted in the 90s.

I was actually the sub deacon for All Souls at Ascension and St Agnes (Episcopal) in DC where we had a full choir and scaled down set of instrumentalist to perform the whole thing. It was glorious. We had 19th century vestments too…

Sigh. If only the Catholic Church would provide a way for Anglicans to return and keep their liturgical treasures….

The one thing I miss in my move from the Episcopal Church to Orthodoxy is the hymnography, especially that related to Christmas. I know that C.S. Lewis complained about Protestant hymns, but he was wrong, at least about the best of them.

Way back in the nineties when my daughter was around eight, the Minneapolis orchestra performed the Requiem. My daughter, being kind of precocious, wanted to go with me. She was also having a friend stay the night who was not particularly precocious. We asked the friend if she wanted to go, and she said, "yes."

By the time they got to the Sanctus, the friend was in tears (not because she was moved by the music!), so we had to leave. Of course, we were in the very middle of a very long row, so we had to "Excuse me, excuse me" our way out.

Very embarrassing.

I'm sure it was, but still...an eight-year-old moved to tears by Mozart? That's impressive.

If I recall correctly, it has nothing to do with the music. She was homesick.

Sorry, I obviously read too hastily and missed the "not."

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